China at War: An Encyclopedia

China at War: An Encyclopedia

China at War: An Encyclopedia

China at War: An Encyclopedia


As the first book of its kind, China at War: An Encyclopedia expands far beyond the conventional military history book that is focused on describing key wars, battles, military leaders, and influential events. Author Xiaobing Li- an expert writer in the subjects of Asian history and military affairs- provides not only a broad, chronological account of China's long military history, but also addresses Chinese values, concepts, and attitudes regarding war. As a result, readers can better understand the wider sociopolitical history of the most populous and one of the largest countries in the world- and grasp the complex security concerns and strategic calculations often behind China's decision-making process.

This encyclopedia contains an introductory essay written to place the reference entries within a larger contextual framework, allowing students to compare Chinese with Western and American views and approaches to war. Topics among the hundreds of entries by experts in the field include Sunzi's classic The Art of War, Mao Zedong's guerrilla warfare in the 20th century, Chinese involvement in the Korean War and Vietnam War, and China's nuclear program in the 21st century.


China, one of the earliest civilizations in the world, possesses rich historical documents, ancient relics, and folklore. Early Chinese military traditions evolved gradually through its prehistory, ancient, and classical periods. The contrasting military and strategic cultures developed during these great ages still stand out among the factors that differentiate China from other early civilizations: Roman, Egypt, and India. China’s army acted according to its own consistent inner logic in its military affairs. Through its history, Chinese strategic issues, institutional characteristics, and operational behaviors created some general patterns through centuries of change, revolution, and war.

Ancient Warfare (2500–771 BC)

The ancient Chinese army experienced important transitions from warrior clans, to slave soldiers, and then to peasant soldiers, accompanying the development of a more unified civil government. A long period elapsed before the Chinese gradually progressed from living in groups to living as members of a clan (or tribe). Relics showing how primitive Chinese people lived in gens communes have been found in many parts of central China along the Yellow River (Huanghe), the cradle of Chinese civilization and military tradition. Warmer weather, improved tools, and domestication of some animals in 12000–8000 BC led to agricultural development and expanding populations. The people had already acquired the skill of making stone and bone instruments and weapons. They also made bows and arrows for their hunting and protection. In approximately 3000 BC, many clans along the Yellow River developed patriarchal society.

Conflicts over arable land, slaves, and water resources evolved into large-scale warfare during the “Five-emperor Period” (wudi) (2600–2200 BC). This period marked the beginning of Chinese military history with the first soldiers, whose stone weapons and defense works protected the clans. Among the five emperors was the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi), who led many tribes in the Huaxia (Hua-Hsia) group along the western Yellow River. In 2250 BC, the Yellow Emperor’s forces defeated the eastern army at Zhuolu. The Battle of Zhuolu was the first recorded battle in Chinese military history. The victorious Yellow Emperor marched his army farther east and south. Through three generations of military leadership—Yao, Shun, and Yu (or Great Yu)—the Huaxia group eventually conquered and unified Chinese territories. The Huaxia shaped Chinese civilization, with the Yellow River remaining central to China’s historical development.

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